Review – Anna Wigley, Ghosts

Ghosts by Anna Wigley. Gomer Press, Llandysul, Ceredigion SA44 4JL. 66 pp. £9.99

In its strengths and limitations, Ghosts is at an opposite pole to Pilgrim Tongues and in some ways much more like The Silvering. Instead of dispersal we have a careful concentration of poetic resources. Whether they’re about animals or paintings, the earlier lives of the poet’s parents, the vitality and promise of the young or the illness and death of the old, these poems are exquisitely attuned to the senses, and Wigley has a particular talent for capturing living creatures in movement. However, where The Silvering gives us a poetry of hidden depths in which deceptively low-voiced statements open out into broader perspectives and expanding ripples of suggestion, Ghosts is much more overtly poetic in the way it catches our attention but its striking initial ideas then seem, as it were, to fold back in on themselves rather than expanding outwards.

I can illustrate what I mean by quoting “Chauvet”, which is both typical and short enough to quote whole:

Deep in this palace of ice chandeliers
the bison huddle on their plain of stone.
A width of thirty-two thousand years
is no gap at all. There,
where a strong-necked horse ripples
through a haunch of rock,
footprints of a cave-bear wait
untouched by curiosity or storms.
And handprints clot in swarms
as witnesses: I lived, I saw, I drew.

When I first read that I felt a real shock of delight at the huddling bison and the kinetic muscularity of the horse. Rereading it simply renews that initial pleasure. In a sense, of course, there are wide perspectives here that might have led the imagination in different directions, through the contrasting worlds of Magdalenian cave and chandeliered ballroom, but the poem doesn’t seem interested in following them. This pattern repeats itself throughout the book. I read nearly every poem in it with considerable enjoyment, but when I read them again the nature of my enjoyment didn’t change or deepen or grow as it did when I reread The Silvering. That said, this is another book I’d recommend to lovers of lyrical poetry.

I would like to thank Patricia Oxley for permission to reprint this review, which appeared in Acumen 86 as part of the same article as my reviews of Maura Dooley and Cliff Forshaw.


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